W. Herbert Brewster
Brewster was born in Somerville, Tennessee. A 1922 graduate of Roger Williams College in Nashville, he settled in Memphis in the 1920s; he served as the pastor of the East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church in South Memphis from 1930 until his death in 1987. His lasting fame, however, is through his musical composition. Among his more than 200 published songs are the gospel standards "Move On Up A Little Higher" (Mahalia Jackson's first hit in 1948) and "Surely, God Is Able" (a 1950 hit for The Ward Singers). These songs hold the distinction of being the first million-selling black gospel records. Other Brewster songs that were hits included "Lord I've Tried" (The Soul Stirrers), "I'll Go" (Queen C. Anderson), "I'm Climbing Higher and Higher" (Marion Williams), and a favorite of African-American gospel choirs, "Let Us Go Back to the Old Landmark," among many others.
Though there are several available recordings of Rev. Brewster's gospel groups The Brewster Singers and The Brewsteraires, there are only two vocal recordings of Rev. Brewster himself. Both recordings credited to "Rev. W.H. Brewster And His Camp Meeting Of The Air" appeared on the Gotham single "Give Me That Old Time Religion"/"So Glad I've Got Good Religion". Each song features a narration by Rev. Brewster followed by vocals.
Brewster was also the composer of more than fifteen gospel music dramas, including From Auction Block to Glory (1941) which was the first nationally-staged African American religious drama that featured gospel songs written specifically for the production. He was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in 1982 for his music when it presented his musical drama Sowing in Tears, Reaping In Joy.
Apart from his vast legacy in the genre of black gospel music, Brewster also had a formative influence on a young Elvis Presley. Elvis occasionally attended services at East Trigg Avenue Baptist Church and listened to Brewster's sermons which were broadcast on Sunday nights on the "Camp Meeting Of The Air" over Memphis radio station WHBQ. According to Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, "Dr. Brewster constantly preached on the theme that a better day was coming, one in which all men could walk as brothers, while across Memphis Sam Phillips listened on his radio every Sunday without fail."
In February 2007, the Memphis City Schools named a new school in the Binghampton community in Brewster's honor as the Dr. William Herbert Brewster Elementary School.
Dr. Brewster died, aged 90, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is buried in the New Park Cemetery.
- W. Herbert Brewster (obituary).The Black Perspective in Music Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987), p. 219
- Heilbut, Anthony. "If I Fail, You Tell the World I Tried": Reverend W. Herbert Brewster on Records. Black Music Research Journal Vol. 7 (1987), pp. 119-126
- Hayes, Cedric and Robert Laughton. Gospel Records 1943-1969 A Black Music Discography, Vol. 1. Record Information Services, London (1992) p. 80
- Wynn, Linda T. "William Herbert Brewster Sr. 1897-1987" in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (Carroll Van West, ed.). Nashville, TN: Tennessee Historical Society and Rutledge Hill Press, 1998.
- Guralnick, Peter. Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. Little, Brown & Co., Boston (1994) p.75
- Memphis City Schools. MCS News Releases for February 2007.